There was some gamesmanship and certainly animosity that developed between the Wild and Avalanche throughout the course of their seven-game series in the opening round of this year's NHL playoffs.
But it never felt like a chess match series. Colorado obviously benefited from its home ice and having favorable matchups. The Wild did, too. And there was not much either team could do about it, regardless of how much the coaches wanted or tried to juggle lines.
This series against Chicago, though, feels as though it could be different. Style of play and line combinations figures to be a bigger factor than in the previous series. And there will be a heightened sense of that tonight in Game 4, a matchup that will very much dictate the tone and direction of the series.
A Chicago win puts the Blackhawks in position to close things out in five games at home Sunday. A Minnesota win puts legitimate heat on the defending champs and makes it a best-of-three series.
As such, Chicago figures to look a lot different tonight than it did in Game 4. Chicago coach Joel Quenneville, a juggler by nature, is shaking up all of his lines in an attempt to get more balance. We would be stunned, too, if Chicago didn't come out far more aggressively than it did in Game 3 (and in part Game 2), trying to get back to playing to its strengths instead of worrying too much about the Wild.
But Minnesota counters with the return of Matt Cooke. How much he impacts the third line, adding a dimension of speed and toughness in place of Matt Moulson, could very well determine how well the Wild combats Chicago's changes and exploits and mismatches.
It's perhaps the most fascinating and difficult to predict game the Wild has played so far in these playoffs. As far as predictions go, we're on the fence but we'll go on record with another Wild win. Neither team has played its best game yet of the series. We'll say Minnesota 3, Chicago 2. We still like the Blackhawks in the series, but Game 3 made it much more of a series than we imagined it would be.